There are no Nato weapons that can help with this enemy
Russia’s invasion is the problem now. It’s actually a nightmare scenario for millions. The war, though, while started by Putin is merely the result of Ukraine’s incurable problem. Ukraine is a country that can’t overcome its addiction to corruption.
The country’s inability to move past the endemic corruption that brought the Soviet Union crashing down delivered it on a silver platter to where it is today.
While Putin like a good drug dealer has enabled Ukraine with “free drugs” for nearly two decades, he didn’t hook them on the corruption. It was the Ukrainian patriots, the former Communist Party, leaders taking over in the wake of the collapsed Soviet Union who were the first to inject the poison into the body politic.
Coming from the same Soviet system that made Putin, each Ukrainian leader played a role that was imagined long before them. The Soviet system created the political-cultural space and the expectations of corrupt behavior. When Putin ended opposition parties in Russia from 2000 onward, he was able to focus more attention to nurturing the Soviet culture of corruption so that none of the leaders in the former Soviet republics could ever go cold turkey — so they could never slip too far away from Moscow.
We see the power of that corruption still today, even though Ukraine is fighting for its life against Russia, there are highly-placed Ukrainians abusing their power.
Vladimir Zelensky is well aware of the image of Ukraine in Western capitals. Ukrainians are the Western world’s sweethearts right now and for the first time in hundreds of years, it seems there is a real chance that the country could finally become a genuinely, independent, modern partner in a united Europe — a democratic partner at a shrinking table of democratic nations.
Ukraine’s current tragedy thanks to Putin’s miscalculation is a golden opportunity for Zelensky’s country if the Ukrainians can get out of the way. Nonetheless, regardless of how heroic the majority of its citizens have been; regardless of how united the world has been in helping Ukraine fend off the genocidal Russians, there is still a layer of Ukrainians who view this moment as a perfect opportunity to screw over their fellow citizens and steal from the country’s present, future, and most dangerously to weaken the country’s defense precisely at a time when it needs all hands on deck — clasped together and clean.
The chair of Ukraine’s Supreme Court was removed from his post after being arrested in a bribery investigation, two anti-corruption bodies said on Tuesday.
The agencies did not identify the chair by name but said it was the Supreme Court chief. On Tuesday, Vsevolod Knyazev was dismissed as chief justice after an overwhelming majority of the court’s judges voted to strip him of the position, according to local news reports.
The authorities accused the justice of accepting $2.7 million in bribes (Ukraine’s Chief Justice Removed).
The corruption began almost immediately
From the moment that Ukraine declared independence on August 24th, 1991, the chaos of the Soviet collapse was like a shot in the arm for the widespread Soviet-era corruption.
Nonetheless, as in all of the recently-freed republics transitioning into free countries independent of Moscow, Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, was committed to setting his country on the right track.
Kravchuk’s campaign promises had focused on promoting democratic institutions and economic prosperity. “We have to create all conditions for the formation of a real citizen of our country — free, prosperous and cultured,” he pledged (A Brief History of Corruption in Ukraine).
With weak, if not non-existent institutions to oversee the transition from a fully government-planned economy to a free-market one, the injections of international aid as well as the transfer of government-owned properties and businesses over to individuals paved the way for the debilitating corruption that has plagued Ukraine for nearly 30 years.
Ukraine’s second president from 1994, Leonid Kuchma was elected because the Ukrainian people, especially the Russians in the east, were violently disillusioned with independence. Kuchma, a former Communist, and head of Ukraine’s aerospace giant Yuzhmash, followed Yeltsin’s example and launched a privatization program.
Kuchma spoke about the need to create an “oligarch class.” These would be Ukrainians he hand-picked and who would be expected to be politically loyal. By the time Russia was defaulting in 1998, Ukraine’s oligarchs under the leadership of Leonid Kuchma were successfully redistributing the country’s wealth to the chosen ones.
From 1998 on, the Ukrainian parliament became the minor league for the country’s future oligarchs. If you were young, smart, and had been elected, showing loyalty to Kuchma meant that a piece of the cake would eventually be offered to you. Some of these future oligarchs will establish close ties with Moscow, which itself was beginning to recover and settle down after the chaos of the 1998 default. Leonid Kuchma, while trying to force Ukraine to transition from the Soviet era, actually constructed the unseen bridge of corruption to Putin.
The parliament’s rubber stamp on such deals was just one example of an important shift that took place during Kuchma’s presidency: the manipulation of nascent democratic institutions by oligarchs to promote their interests.
Ukraine had inherited a crooked philosophy and culture of leaders using access to the top for their own benefit: that’s how it worked in the Soviet Union. In the independence years, again and again the chief prosecutor and the interior minister have been accused of grave crimes in service of the president (A Brief History of Corruption in Ukraine).
The growing alliance of corruption between Moscow and Kyiv was earning everyone, including Kuchma and Putin, a lot of money. Life was good and the “democratic transition” of the countries was proving to be very profitable for everyone so long as they stayed on the same page, one that was nothing but a continuation of the story of the Soviet Union’s corrupt ways.
Orange is the color
After the murder of a popular journalist in 2000, Gregory Gongadze, a popular movement known as “Ukraine without Kuchma” rose up. Kuchma had been caught on tape saying that something needed to be done with Gongadze and months later his decapitated body was found in the forest.
Under Kuchma, like in Russia, independent television stations had formed a strong voice in Ukraine. Despite the corruption among the political class, there was a genuine sense of a civil society forming among Ukrainian citizens.
At the same time, differing political parties representing the interests of the electorate were coming to power. Once in power, though, their loyalties to their constituencies vanished and their power was used for personal gain. In an oddity, the Ukrainian Green Party was controlled by oligarchs with controlling interests in the country’s oil industry.
The first chapter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was written in 2004. Leonid Kuchma picked Viktor Yanukovich to replace him for president. The choice greatly pleased Putin and the Moscow elite. In December 2004, The Atlantic wrote the following assessment of Ukraine:
Ukraine’s east is mostly Russian-speaking, Orthodox in religion, and strongly pro-Russian. Most people in Ukraine’s west speak Ukrainian and adhere to a church that acknowledges the authority of the Roman Catholic pope. Western Ukrainians are intensely nationalistic and distrustful of Russia (Ukraine’s Orange Revolution).
Russians in the east who predominantly watched Moscow-controlled television stations, which by 2004 were slowly being forced to toe the Kremlin’s line, voted almost unanimously for Yanukovich. The rest of the country voted for Viktor Yushchenko forcing a runoff. Yushchenko, you may recall, is the pro-Western politician who was poisoned and almost died. Many then suspected that Putin had a hand in the poisoning which left Yushchenko’s face severely scarred, but in 2004 such accusations were considered to be a wild conspiracy. I guess now all doubt is gone.
When the runoff was finalized, exit polls had Yukoshenko winning by 11 percent but the Ukrainian elections body loyal to Kuchma put Yanukovich’s lead at 2.7 percent. Viktor Yanukovich was chosen as the winner.
The protests began immediately and instantly Kyiv was brought to a standstill as tens of thousands of orange-clad Ukrainians flooded onto the streets to demand a new election. Colin Powell and the European Union warned that if Yanukovich remained there would be serious consequences for Ukraine. Putin warned the U.S. to back off.
When the Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered that the election be redone, protesters in Kyiv sang the national anthem and chanted “Putin hands off Ukraine.” Remember, this was 2004. The seeds of Putin’s anger were planted then and Ukraine’s corrupt political foundation soil was Ukraine’s famous “chernozem” for growing Putin’s corrupt, enabling influence.
As if they were predicting what would eventually happen, The Atlantic wrote before the election, which was won by the West-aligned Yukoshenko:
This election represents a big leap for Ukrainians. After centuries of Russian domination, they are deciding on whether their nation’s future lies with the West or the East.
A victory for Yushchenko would confirm the West’s increasing influence in Ukraine at the expense of Russia — something Western leaders may not want to celebrate for fear of reviving Cold War tensions and of feeding Russia’s ancient paranoia about being encircled and threatened by the West (Ukraine’s Orange Revolution).
Yushcheko’s presidency would never live up to the promise. While most said he himself wasn’t corrupt, his lack of vision and refusal to take command and lead his revolution, resulted in a paralysis that actually made the corruption of the Kuchma era worse. Expecting to be prosecuted, corrupt officials all over the country shifted gears and deepened their hold on the government to squeeze as much wealth out of it as they could before the party ended. The party never ended, though, and Yushchenko became friends with many of the oligarchs instead refusing to go after them.
When Putin’s favorite, Viktor Yanukovich, finally became Ukraine’s president winning a fair election in 2010, the Kremlin was finally able to relax. A fully compliant and weakened Ukraine would no longer be a problem in his back yard and the flow of money between the two countries could continue unabated.
And as soon as he got his hands on the reins of power, he spurred official corruption to new levels while maintaining a magisterial lifestyle, according to official documents.
Allegations of galloping graft that characterized Yanukovych’s administration ultimately contributed to its demise. People rose again in 2014, an event now known as the Euromaidan Revolution, prompting Yanukovych to flee the country. These days, while he maintains an isolated existence in Russia, Ukraine continues to struggle to overcome the legacy of his rule (A Brief History of Corruption in Ukraine).
It was the Euromaidan Revolution in Kyiv that set the timer for Russia’s invasion. Putin finally realized that Ukraine had to be lassoed back into Moscow’s orbit once and for all. Thanks to a long succession of corrupt governments, even the ones that were not supposed to be corrupt, Putin understood that Ukraine’s foundation was rotten to the core.
The people of Ukrainian, however, had a degree of democratic and civic development that never existed in Russia, and so the back-and-forth between Moscow and the West would continue forever unless he ended the ping-pong match once and for all.
February 24th, 2022 was his attempt to end it. Putin will fail in his mission. Ukrainians, however, will not win even if they manage to push out the Russian occupiers if they don’t overcome their addiction and punish corruption with the same tenacity, even brutality, that they do the Russian invaders.